The newly developed Australian Blog Sites
, created to give bloggers ‘a sense of unity’, lists contemporary political blog sites, at last count over fifty of them, that visitors to the site can access. This attempt to give those of us who operate in the Fifth Estate a feeling that we are not alone and that our collective voices can be heard and, as recent events with Grog’s Gamut
show certainly are, is laudable and warrants our support.
The first edition of this site gave us something more – a series of videos about the Murdoch Empire, in particular the Fox News Channel in the US. A short introductory piece is followed by eight ten minute videos titled Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
. This is the most revealing exposé of Murdoch in America I have seen. There is a Melbourne University Publishing ‘media discussion’ on Bruce Guthrie’s book Man bites Murdoch
at Federation Square in Melbourne on the evening of 8 November that will expose something of Murdoch in Australia. Paul Barry of Media Watch
will chair the event; Crikey’s
Eric Beecher, Caroline Overington from The Australian
, and Bruce Guthrie will be the panellists. I will report on that later.
Here is the introduction to Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
This piece draws heavily on the abovementioned videos and that source is hereby gratefully acknowledged. It attempts to capture some of the material presented there. It would repay anyone who has the time and inclination to play the videos in full as they portray more dramatically than words ever could how the Murdoch outfit operates.
Let’s start by sketching how far the Murdoch influence extends. Be prepared to be alarmed that one man, one empire, could reach so far.
At the time Outfoxed
by Bravenew Films was released in 2004, Murdoch owned 9 satellite TV networks, 100 cable channels, 175 newspapers, 40 book imprints, 40 TV stations and one movie studio. These reached audiences of 280 million through US TV, 300 million via Asian satellite, 300 million via cable and 28 million through magazines, which together with his newspapers and TV stations gave him a total audience of 4.7 billion people, about three quarters of the world’s population at that time. Has any man in business ever had such capacity to influence so many for good, or for the opposite?
Interviewed in Davos, Murdoch denied wanting to set the agenda for current affairs, but conceded he wanted ‘to make a difference’
by putting forward his own opinion. He added: “You can’t change the world completely”
(note ‘completely’), and you “can’t change elections”
(many would disagree), and that “good strong views and organizations, by disclosing things, can shape the agenda, but only in a limited way”
(believe that if you will).
A number of media people are interviewed in Outfoxed
: Bob Mc Chesney, Founder of Free Press and author of Freedom of the Media
, David Brock, President of Media Matters for America, Gene Kimmelman of the Consumer Union, Peter Hart, Media Analyst for FAIR, Av Westin, former Vice President of ABC News, James Wolcott, former staff writer for the New Yorker
, veteran anchor man Walter Kronkite, and former Fox News producers, presenters and contributors: Jeff Cohen, Frank O’Donnell, Diana Winthrop, David Burnett, Larry Johnson, Jon Du Pre, Clara Frenk, Joseph Caffaso, and many others. These are some of the things they had to say.
Jeff Cohen said “Media is the nervous system of a democracy – if it does not function well democracy cannot function.”
Frank O’Donnell, who was involved with TV WTTG 5 in Washington, DC before Murdoch took it over for his Fox News Channel told how Murdoch executives left them alone for three years because they were so successful, but insidiously began to influence their news coverage to the point where the producers were “ordered, from the top to carry propaganda, Republican right-wing propaganda.”
Walter Kronkite asserted that Fox was ‘far right’. Another commentator said that Fox carried distorted, caricatured information where the original source was unknown, and where an ‘echo effect’ operated to amplify the distortions. Does that remind you of Murdoch outlets in this country?
Although Fox executives’ stated aim was to present 'fine, balanced journalism' and through a PR genius created the ‘Fair and Balanced’
strapline and the ‘We Report, you Decide’
slogan, those who worked for Fox testified that they were monitored by bureau chiefs, worked in an atmosphere of fear, and were given to understand that ‘you are with us or you are against us’
. To survive it was necessary to go along with the mindset of the chiefs, who would issue edicts to reporters about what they could or could not say. Av Westin, former Vice President of ABC News, spoke of the ‘message of the day’
memos issued by bureau chiefs about what to report and what to emphasize. Kronkite said he had never heard of this way of reporting news. One anonymous commenter said: “Fox has eliminated journalism”.
Another said that Fox News blurs the line between news and commentary. Yet another said Murdoch wants all news to be ‘a matter of opinion’
. Fox journalism seems anything but fair and balanced.
This raises the question of how much this type of pernicious interference in journalism occurs in this country, in the newspapers and Murdoch pay TV outlets. Many of us have opinions about the former; those of you who can access the latter may wish to comment.
There are some revealing and disturbing clips of techniques used on Fox News: how interviewees whose opinion does not match the station’s position are verbally bullied, and sometimes told belligerently to ‘shut up’. There is an amazing clip where one anchor man says to an interviewee who is challenging America’s involvement in Iraq: “Every American should support the military, and if not, ‘shut up’.”
A study revealed that there were five times more Republican interviewees than Democrat; those from the former were well known figures and had 83% of the time, those from the latter were almost totally unknown, were picked because of their centrist position and preparedness to be compliant with conservative positions, or could be readily bullied. Do you who watch Murdoch’s pay TV channels see that here?
Another tactic is for presenters to use the ‘some people say’
technique. There is an amusing yet disturbing sequence of such instances, with several variants, used over and again. It allows presenters to present their own opinion while attributing it to someone else, anonymous and unknown. Our own Glenn Milne is a master of this tactic.
Yet another tactic is to ‘play the man’
. There was a disquieting sequence where Richard Clarke, former Bush military adviser, giving testimony on the 9/11 Commission Report to the US Senate, said; “Your Government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, I failed you”
, and then asked for forgiveness. Being anathema to the Bush administration and to Fox News, both set about repudiating not just Clarke’s testimony, but the man himself, attributing to him ulterior motives and a mercenary desire to tout the book he had just written. The way Fox set about demeaning Clarke, who from what we have seen of him on ABC TV seems a decent and honest man, is distressing to behold.
Another example was an account of Murdoch’s dislike of Teddy Kennedy who was a long time opponent of Murdoch, and how Fox News was ordered to run an uncut version of the ‘Chappaquiddick incident’ to discredit Kennedy’s advocacy for victims of racism and AIDS, although the incident was not news at the time.
These well-tried ‘play the man’
tactics were designed to destroy Clarke’s and Kennedy’s reputations and thereby their arguments.
There is another device Fox News uses – its Special Report. This is seen as a way of overshadowing important news with relative trivia so that focus is taken from what the people ought to be told. We have seen this here with stories about Julia Gillard’s earlobes, ear rings, handbag or lack thereof, her tie-less partner, even what will happen to Kevin Rudd’s chooks at The Lodge. Such stories can be and are used to distract from the significant ones.
When it could be said at the time by past Fox News personnel to those currently presenting Fox News that the more the viewers consume their media, the less they know about the subject and the more they will agree with Bush Government policy, it is not just a sad state of affairs, it is a manifestation of political manipulation by the media on a grand scale - ‘George Orwell Nineteen Eighty Four’ style. One ex-presenter, who insisted that ‘Murdoch is partisan to his core’
, lamented “this is the worst thing a journalist would want to learn”.
Peter Hart, Media Analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, said that in pursuit of conservative politics Fox News distorts the facts, misrepresents them and at times simply fabricates them. Does this resonate with you when you reflect on Murdoch outlets here in Australia?
I could go on and on – the videos give a more complete picture of the nature and magnitude of the media problem that is Fox News in the US. A look at them would repay your time. But if you do, please sit down calmly in a comfortable chair with perhaps your favourite tranquilizer at hand. To view them go to Australian Blog Sites
; you will find them in the left panel.
Finally, the most frightening comment was that if we don’t do something about this, we will be having the same conversation in 50 years’ time with Rupert Murdoch the Third. God forbid.
So please tell us: “What do you think of Rupert Murdoch’s power and influence?”